College football recruiting is ever-changing, and national signing day this year provided more proof that teams are looking to find, and use, freshmen sooner rather than later on campus.
Guys like Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker were the exception to the rule back when running backs were starting to gain notoriety as freshmen, but today, freshmen are expected to help contribute to good teams and smart coaches.
Last year's crop of freshman running backs included Alabama standout T.J. Yeldon, Georgia up-and-comer Todd Gurley and Miami speedster Duke Johnson. This year, some of the RB recruits who have already put their name on the dotted line have a chance to make that kind of impact from camp into Week 1.
Looking even further ahead past that initial production, it's not too soon to start giving you a scouting report on the backs who have the potential to take the country by storm like Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel did this season.
That being said, here's a look at a few backs who have the best shot at winning the Heisman Trophy, most likely in the next couple of years. However, after Manziel's record-setting Heisman win, you can never tell who will emerge in the race going forward.
Alabama Commit Derrick Henry
The Florida native and record-holding RB will be playing for Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide next season, helping to complete a stellar Alabama class that includes LB Reuben Foster and DT Dee Liner.
Just by the nature of the position, Henry (6'3", 240 pounds) has a chance to win the award.
Alabama RB is becoming a position of notoriety around not only college football but sports period. Mark Ingram got the ball rolling by winning the Heisman Trophy in the 2009 season. Trent Richardson followed suit with a great season and national championship of his own, and Eddie Lacy looks like he's bound for the first or second round in the 2013 NFL draft.
Current players on campus include Yeldon and Jalston Fowler, the top two candidates to carry the load for the Tide in 2013. Still, Henry's raw athleticism and ability to run over defenders might make him a logical choice to carry the load in a season or two. Andrew Gribble noted on Twitter just how motivated Henry is to be the best:
Andrew Gribble @Andrew_Gribble
O.J. Howard rooms with Derrick Henry. Called him a "freak" and said he's caught him doing push-ups in middle of the night.2/6/2013, 10:52:26 PM
There looks to be only two things working against Henry in a potential Heisman quest. One: having to split carries with so many other talented backs on campus. Two: There has been some speculation of a potential move to linebacker in the near future.
Either way, Henry is a load on the field and should be fun to watch for years to come. He might even have a Heisman invite in his future.
Nebraska Commit Adam Taylor
Taylor is only rated a 90 on 247Sports' composite rankings, and he winds up as a 4-star back in the 2013 class.
Bo Pelini got a solid, if sometimes unspectacular, back that can do many things well for the Huskers for the next few seasons. Although he isn't as highly publicized as some of the backs that signed ahead of him on the rankings list, he has the size and skill to be a highly productive back in the Big Ten.
Ameer Abdullah will be a junior in 2013, and if he finds success the way he did when Rex Burkhead went down in 2012, he could be NFL-bound following next year's college football season.
That would help pave the way for Taylor, the 6'2", 200-pound running back from Katy, Texas—a school known for producing collegiate talent like Andy Dalton and Bo Levi Mitchell.
There hasn't been a lot of press about this kid, but what do you expect? The Big Ten is a blue-collar league, and Taylor will have more than ample chances to convince the coaching staff he deserves a heavy load in a run-first offense.
Florida Commit Kelvin Taylor
Florida was overflowing with running back prospects this year, as Henry, Taylor, Greg Bryant and Alex Collins all called the state home for their high school careers.
Of those four, Taylor is the only one staying close to home, as he will be playing football for Will Muschamp and the Gators for the next four seasons.
Like Alabama, Florida has put out plenty of running back products over the past few years, but none that were complete backs like Taylor. At 5'10", 215 pounds, Taylor has the size to be considered both a speedster and a power back in Florida's offense going forward.
He doesn't have the burst of a guy like Mike Gillislee or Chris Rainey, but he's not that kind of running back. Watching his highlight tape gives way to a smooth, visionary runner that uses running lanes well and isn't afraid to make one hard cut and get to the next level.
All of these backs will be stars for their new programs if given the opportunity. It's hard to predict a Heisman Trophy winner this far out, but with the talent across the board more evenly dispersed than ever, we can take a look at some candidates who have a greater shot than most.
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